The Living Tradition of Yup'ik Masks
Agayuliyararput (Our Way of Making Prayer)
For the Yup'ik people of southwestern Alaska, masked dancing has long been a focal point of ceremonial activity. Performed traditionally inside the qasaiq (communal men's house) during festivals, the dances feature face and finger masks that make visible the world of helping spirits and extraordinary beings, and are specially made to tell particular stories. Although masks are infrequently used today, elders still remember their powerful presence and increasingly appreciate them as touchstones of cultural pride - as agayuliyararput, "our way of making prayer". Often used by shamans to facilitate communication and movement between worlds (human and animal, the living and the dead), Yup'ik masks usually were discarded after use. Specimens first found their way into museum collections via nineteenth-century traders and collectors working along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, and soon were displayed internationally. The Living Tradition of Yup'ik Masks brings together masks from museum and private collections all over the world and presents them in their native context. Ann Fienup Riordan describes the natural world of southwestern Alaska and the rich ceremonial life that evolved there to acknowledge and honor the many beings that made possible the sustenance of human life in a precariously balanced environment. Chapters arranged geographically describe the world's major Yup'ik mask collectors and collections and the circumstances that made each unique. The voices of Yup'ik elders are present throughout the text, recounting stories, describing traditional Yup'ik life, and responding to particular masks.
320 pp — ©1996